BLOG - Speechification Alternate

A few years ago there was a corner of the world wide web called Speechification.

According to those behind Speechification it was “A blog of Radio 4. Not about Radio 4 but of it. We point to the bits we like, the bits you might have missed, the bits that someone might have sneakily recorded. And other bits of speech radio might find their way here too. Of course, one day this might turn into something else… maybe a new way of curating radio, or maybe it won’t.”

As an indicator of what they were were pointing people (and in this instance specifically me) towards, a blogpost from 2008, which is an alarming aside (but that’s for another day), states that they “have allowed me to pick up on an excellent interview with the Pet Shop Boys from The London Ear on Resonance FM, a half hour guide to Glitch presented by Paul Morley (somewhat incongruously broadcast on Radio 2) and a programme on Erics, the legendary venue in Liverpool (which was still very good despite being presented by Steve Lamacq)”.

Sadly it didn’t become a new way of curating radio, and after returning for a short while following a break from its original run it’s now no longer transmitting.

With that being the case I’m going to try and pay homage to what the Speechification folk were doing and occasionally publish blogposts to remind myself of some of the great radio that I’ve listened to, and at the same time signpost anyone who finds themselves here to programmes they may have missed. I don’t know how often I’ll publish these posts, that will be somewhat dependent on others, although I will try and persevere with them.

So here are three programmes, all from Radio 4, and all I hope, firmly in the spirit of the original site.

A Call from Joybubbles 
First up is an introduction to the oddly fascinating world of phone phreaking. Where Josef Carl Engressia Jr. (aka latterly Joybubbles) a blind boy with perfect pitch, discovers he can make free phone calls and create all sorts of telephony based magic merely by whistling. And yes you’re right it does sound unlikely.

On the back of mentioning this programme on twitter the fine people at @MaraidDesign also pointed me to two further associated pieces of radio, namely Long Distance from Radiolab which covers similar but different ground to A Call from Joybubbles, and this episode of This American Life from January 1998 which tells the “stories of who we are on the phone, of things we learn on the phone, and of things that happen on the phone that don’t happen anywhere else”.

Second Side Up – a Life Captured in Radio
Second, naturally, is this from the always excellent Between the Ears slot on BBC Radio 3, that “celebrates innovative and thought-provoking features that make adventurous use of sound”. This episode tells the story of Second Side Up, a long running radio show created by Mark Talbot, albeit one only distributed on cassette to a small network of his friends and family. This is a lovely piece of radio and the fact that people are quietly going about these sorts of labours of love is always cheering.

The ‘Apostrophiser’
And finally, and continuing with the theme of labours of love,  a programme on Bristol’s very own grammar vigilante. This story has been reported all over the shop so you’ll have probably come across the gentleman in question already. That said this is still well worth a listen and having seen a couple of TV news reports on the apostrophiser and his work it’s also a great example of the pictures being so much better on the radio.

Off The Map


BLOG - Madiera

I like to think there is a certain amount of rhyme in my reason, although it appears that despite that belief I’m often still sat here staring into space.

Others make far more sense of it than me.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, in a TED talk entitled Cloudy with a Chance of Joy, justifies the pastime (perhaps unsurprisingly in specific respect of the appreciation of cloud-forms), particularly as an antidote to the modern world.

“You’re not going to change the world by lying on your back and gazing up at the sky, are you? It’s pointless. It’s a pointless activity, which is precisely why it’s so important. The digital world conspires to make us feel perpetually busy. Sometimes we need excuses to do nothing. We need to be reminded by these patron goddesses of idle fellows that slowing down and being in the present, not thinking about what you’ve got to do and what you should have done, but just being here, letting your imagination lift from the everyday concerns down here and just being in the present, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the way you feel.”

However it’s Patrick Barkham in his excellent book Coastlines The Story of Our Shore, who when talking about his response to the landscape at Scolt Head on the North Norfolk coast, explains how I feel even more clearly.

“As I floated in the North Sea, I considered Caspar Henderson’s idea that Scolt was a site for hypnagogia. I guess it is obvious that we can reach such a fluid and imaginative state of consciousness in a liminal landscape like Scolt, a small coastal island that flexes like a living thing and grows like a child. It becomes easier to see how we might be affected more than we realise by our surroundings if we are lucky enough to spend time in one of the last wildernesses of southern Britain. Here it is possible to return to a childlike state alone with the sea and sand and silence, completely absorbed in the present moment.”

Whilst it’s rare that I inhabit a world quite as distant as the landscape Patrick describes (albeit that it’s not actually that far from where I call home) I think it’s clear that I get the same sense of hypnagogia from the simple act of staring out to sea, or up to the skies.

Which is just as well in times like these.

Seaside Special


At the tail end of last week Mrs Weir and I spent a few days in Brighton to celebrate another passing year.

And as ever we decided to do so beside the seaside.


What A World


Just over a month since writing about ‘the all embracing gloom that is January’ and  I’m still struggling. I used to be able to manage my mental state through the winter darkness much more easily than I seem to be able to do now, although I suppose to be fair to myself the background whine of rage inducing news doesn’t help.

So here’s Clive James, who finds himself in a far more perilous situation than me, to accentuate the positive in his ‘Reports of my death’ column in The Guardian.

Good Lobsters


BLOG - Cromer #1

When Daniel Defoe visited Cromer he was underwhelmed, “Cromer is a market town close to the shore of this dangerous coast. I know nothing it is famous for except good lobsters.”

I visited last Saturday and whilst I can confirm that Cromer is still a town close to the shore of the coast, I can’t vouch for its lobsters.

For a while now I’ve been meaning to travel deep into the flatlands to visit Holme Fen, supposedly the lowest land point in Great Britain. Obviously to manage such an achievement would take great planning and much effort, so on Saturday morning after a few minutes of clarification via the world wide web (admittedly not that much planning), I set out to make my mark.

To be honest living just under an hour away from Holme Fen did make the journey a little less arduous than had I been searching for height rather than depth, so in order to inject some jeopardy into the proceedings I did at least leave before sun-rise.

Originally Holme Fen sat within the Whittlesey Mere (at that time the largest lake in Southern England), which was drained by a group of local landowners in the mid 1800s in order to convert the area into (very successful) farmland. William Wells, the leader of the group, understood that draining the land would bring changes, so in order to help measure the evolving landscape he erected a post deep into the ground at the lowest point in the area.

The post (originally wood but replaced with cast iron a few years later) was set in 1848 with the top being cut level with the surface of the ground, and since that point the land around it has dropped by over 13 feet. In the picture above (taken before the sun came up) you can see the top of the post high above the ground, whilst the picture below shows two further marking points made as the years passed.

BLOG - Holme Fen #c

Holme Fen itself is one of the largest silver birch woodlands in Britain, contains several hectares of rare acid grassland and there’s still plenty of water to be found, despite the drainage that previously took place.

As ever with the fens, it’s a beautiful but somewhat peculiar landscape. And if my (admittedly very limited) experience is anything to go by it’s one that is largely ignored, as for the two or three hours I was there I didn’t see another soul.

In Other News


BLOG - Penguin Awareness Day

Today has seen a disappointing lack of coverage regarding Penguin Awareness Day. Hopefully the various news networks will realise the error of their ways and make amends on World Penguin Day later in the year.